PITTSBURGH — Jared McCann scored a pair of power-play goals, Casey DeSmith made 36 saves and the Pittsburgh Penguins extended Buffalo’s winless streak to 16 straight with a 4-0 victory on Thursday night.
Radim Zohorna picked up a goal on his first shot in the NHL for the Penguins. Jake Guentzel added an empty-netter and Sidney Crosby had three assists to raise his career point total to 1,300 as Pittsburgh swept a pair from the NHL’s worst team with relative ease.
Buffalo’s bizarre season took another strange turn when general manager Kevyn Adams found himself on the bench serving as head coach after interim Don Granato and assistant Matt Ellis were placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol a few hours before the opening faceoff.
What he saw up close looked an awful lot like what he’s seen from afar over the last two-plus months. The Sabres are an injury-riddles mess. Buffalo has now been shut out more times (seven) than it has wins (six).
Even fleeting moments of success don’t last. Victor Olofsson appeared to put the Sabres on the board with 5:57 to play only to have it overturned on replay when winger Jeff Skinner was ruled offside.
Dustin Tokarski played well in his second straight start while filling in for injured Carter Hutton, stopping 27 shots, but the Sabres were held at bay by DeSmith and a defense that prevented few quality chances.
Buffalo’s 0-14-2 stretch is the worst since the Penguins went 0-17-1 from Jan. 13 to Feb. 22, 2004.
The Penguins have their own problems, including an injured list that grew longer on Wednesday night when forward Kasperi Kapanen went down with a lower-body injury. Kapanen joined a group that includes forward Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Tanev and Jason Zucker.
Pittsburgh, however, has stayed afloat despite the issues and received a surprising boost when the massive 6-foot-6, 24-year-old Zohorna copied a feat accomplished by Hall of Famer and team owner Mario Lemieux when he scored on his first-ever shot in the NHL.
Zohorna, signed to a two-way contract last year after starting his career in the Czech Republic, found himself alone in the left circle when he whipped a wrist shot past Tokarski to give the Penguins the lead 17:21 into the first.
McCann, put on the top power-play unit thanks to all the injuries, zipped a wrist shot past Tokarski 1:27 into the second. The goal was set up thanks to a fantastic play by Crosby, who batted down a clearing attempt out of mid-air at the blue line and slid it over to Kris Letang, who then fed it to McCann.
The Sabres never really responded. DeSmith stymied a short-handed breakaway early in the third period but otherwise faced little traffic directly in front of him.
McCann’s second goal, a wrist shot from the left circle, made it 3-0 with 11:04 to go. When Guentzel found the empty net with 1:06 remaining, it made Crosby the 36th player in NHL history to reach 1,300 points.
Only two active players — Toronto’s Joe Thornton and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin — have more.
Sabres: Visit Boston on Saturday.
Penguins: Host the East Division-leading New York Islanders for a two-game set starting on Saturday.